UCLA gymnastics leaves even opponents in dance mode in latest win

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Thuc Nhi Nguyen
·4 min read
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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA FEBRUARY 10, 2021-UCLA's Pauline Tratz competes on the floor during competition against BYU at Pauley Pavillion Wednesday. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
UCLA's Pauline Tratz competes on the floor during competition against BYU at Pauley Pavilion Wednesday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

By the end of UCLA’s floor party Wednesday, even opposing gymnasts couldn't help but dance.

With less than one-tenth of a point lead going into the final event of Wednesday’s meet at Pauley Pavilion, the Bruins used a season-best effort on floor to stave off a comeback to win 196.6-196.325 over No. 11 Brigham Young.

As the No. 10 Bruins rolled up four scores on 9.9 or better to finish the rotation, BYU gymnasts began to join in on the sideline, dancing along with Bruins Margzetta Frazier and Nia Dennis, whose 9.925s helped clinch the meet for UCLA.

Scores of 9.9 from senior Pauline Tratz and freshman Chae Campbell helped add to UCLA’s season-high 49.425 on floor. From Tratz’s electronic dance number to Dennis’ hip hop routine that took over the internet, UCLA brought what head coach Chris Waller called “that extra Bruin shine out there” as the team gets more comfortable competing after a long offseason.

UCLA's Savannah Kooyman dismounts from the uneven bars during competition against BYU at Pauley Pavillion Wednesday.
UCLA's Savannah Kooyman dismounts from the uneven bars during competition against BYU at Pauley Pavillion Wednesday. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

“You can feel watching our team on floor that they’re performing with their chest up, without any fear whatsoever,” Waller said. “There’s no doubt in their mind because they’re just committed to this big, beautiful performance and the athletics takes care of itself.”

Frazier debuted a new floor routine set to a mix of Janet Jackson hits. Her new music, in addition to junior Samantha Sakti competing on floor in an exhibition for the first time as a Bruin, energized the team, Waller said.

UCLA will try to keep the energy high with two more meets in the next nine days, starting Sunday at Washington, then at Utah on Feb. 19.

Mixing up lineups to prepare for the frantic stretch, the Bruins had three all-around competitors in one meet for the first time since March 16, 2014. Dennis won the all-around title in her first all-around appearance since 2019 as she finished with a combined score of 39.475, beating out Campbell (39.375) and Frazier (39.3).

Competing in the all-around is common at the Junior Olympic level, but with big teams, small lineups and shortened practice times, all-around competitors can be rare in college.

It was easy to practice four events in elite gymnastics, Frazier said. She had eight hours a day to train. At UCLA, she has just 20 hours a week.

“That’s one of the things that’s made NCAA gymnastics just as challenging in some areas as elite gymnastics because you have to do your basic skills absolutely perfect with limited time to practice those things, especially as an all-arounder,” said Frazier, a junior.

Dennis’ return to bars, where she scored a 9.8, allowed her to break into the all-around competition again after a shoulder injury hampered her on the event. The senior underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in March after managing the injury for more than five years.

UCLA's Nia Dennis competes on the floor during competition against BYU.
UCLA's Nia Dennis competes on the floor during competition against BYU at Pauley Pavilion on Wednesday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Last year, the injury had become so bad that Dennis didn't compete on beam as she couldn't support her weight during tumbling elements on the four-inch-wide beam. On Wednesday, she scored a 9.9 on the event, her highest beam score since Feb. 2, 2019.

The Bruins needed Dennis’ score on beam after a rare fall from Sakti, who hadn’t fallen off the beam in eight straight meets and was ranked third nationally on the event entering Wednesday’s meet.

With a season-low 48.95 on beam, UCLA’s 0.3-point lead after two rotations dwindled to just 0.075 points entering the final event. The Bruins didn’t flinch at the pressure.

“The standard that we always set for ourselves is to perform big and live in the moment and support each other and love each other,” Dennis said. “So that was the same energy that we had going into floor and the whole entire day.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.